Emma Watson's highly publicized road to feminist leadership has hardly been without its bumps. While she has spoken up for gender equality, she has also been criticized for failing to promote systemic solutions. But to be fair, Watson has also publicly acknowledged and vowed to remedy her shortcomings — a journey to enlightenment that apparently involves mining feminist legends for wisdom.
Watson did just that with bell hooks as part of Paper magazine's "Girl Crush" series, which purportedly matches women with "mutual admiration for one another" to illuminate "what it's like to be a woman right now." If their conversation is any indication, being a woman right now involves critiques of Hermione, Beyoncé, celebrity feminism and more.
Was Hermione really a feminist heroine? Watson's most recognizable role, Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series, is often lauded as inspiring and feminist. But hooks isn't so sure, and told Watson she found the character "both exciting and at times infuriating." The most valuable characteristics of this "girl who was just so intelligent, who is such a thinker," hooks explained, was too often "placed in the service of boy power."
By her final scene in the last movie, Hermione is "like a suburban housewife" and "a passive image," hooks said. "Movies are still struggling with how to create images of smart, vibrant, powerful and intelligent older females."
Watson acknowledged that although she hadn't considered this interpretation, she resisted identifying with Hermione while portraying her.
"Honestly, just from a practical perspective and not from an intentional perspective, we had such a hard time figuring out how to authentically age us — to take us from where we were — we were all 20-year-olds, and to make us look like we're in our 30s and 40s ... we had a really hard time figuring out how to do that. We really struggled."
"All females living in the modern culture go through this transitional phase of sort of trying on acceptable images of femininity," hooks wisely concluded.
There's no such thing as a "perfect" feminist. And these transitions can certainly include failure — although we rarely allow public figures to experience this without scrutiny. But nobody can, or should, publicly embody feminism perfectly.
"I feel I have to be quite vigilant," Watson acknowledged of this dynamic. "I feel that fear of 'am [I] looking at this from all of the angles, how can this be interpreted, how can it be taken out of context?' But I do have a lot to learn and I should be wary."
Hooks agreed that being a woman (especially a feminist) and public figure in the age of social media means "you're more subject to people misinterpreting what you say." One such example, hooks noted, was her widely publicized statement that Queen Beyoncé is "anti-feminist" and a "terrorist." Though these comments were taken "out of context," hooks told Watson, public women especially are forced to "get over any kind of attachment to perfectionism."
The key to discarding this perfectionist impulse, according to hooks? Humor.
"Humor is essential to working with difficult subjects: race, gender, class, sexuality," she said. "If you can't laugh at yourself and be with others in laughter, you really cannot create meaningful social change."
Feminism is for everybody. In addition to humor, conscious explanation of feminist ideals should also be applied to the movement, according to both women.
"Feminism almost got hijacked a little bit by academics and by gender studies and by only being talked about by this specific group of people," Watson said. "I want to try to talk to people who might not encounter feminism and talk to them about feminism ... I want to engage in the topic with people who wouldn't normally."
Hooks agreed, noting that was her very goal in writing Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. But while dedication to fighting for feminist values is crucial, it can't be one's entire life. As hooks wisely concluded, "being balanced is crucial, because it helps us not to overextend or to try to live up to other people's expectations in ways that leave you feeling empty."